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New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs

By   /   October 29, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 19 of 126 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

After 20 years studying special education in charter schools, Lauren Morando Rhim saw little progress.

SPECIAL ED: Some students need extra help in the classroom. NCSECS hopes to help kids get that help in charter schools.

The conversation about special ed in charter schools is all about whether charter schools should accept students with learning disabilities, she said, not about sharing ideas and information about exceptional programs at charter schools so others can learn from them. And nothing was changing.

In an effort to change the conversation, Rhim co-founded the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, which launched last week.

“I think (the center) addresses a critical need in the charter movement,” said James Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “Special education has not received the attention and the support it really needs among charter schools, and I think the center is going to be helpful to charter schools as they step forward to meet the needs of kids who have special challenges.”

About 20 percent of students have a learning disability, Wendorf said. That includes the 10 percent to 15 percent of students who have dyslexia and others with attention-deficit disorders or hearing impairments. Learning disabilities are not correlated with intelligence, he said.

A recent study showed that learning-disabled students in charter schools outperformed their peers in math, but charter schools can improve to serve more students.

A big part of the issue, Rhim and Wendorf said, is a misperception of what it means to have a learning disability.

“Learning disabilities are essentially invisible,” Wendorf said. “There’s sometimes a ‘myth of mildness’ because these disabilities are invisible, but for any person who struggles with dyslexia or another kind of learning disability, the struggles are very real and can cause tremendous challenges and difficulties.”

Most special-needs students can learn in the regular classroom with minor support, Rhim said.

“They can be successful. They can learn on par with their peers, once they’re provided with those supports,” she said.

Disabled students often suffer from lower expectations, she said.

“This isn’t necessarily malicious, but people say, ‘Oh, they have a disability, we don’t want to push them too much,’ when really there’s decades of research, with exceptions for kids with the most severe disabilities, we really should try to keep our expectations as high as possible,” she said. “Those expectations are so critically important in terms of how students see themselves and how other students see them and how their teachers see them.”

Some charter schools offer great programs for special needs students; others don’t want to enroll them. Most fall somewhere in between.

“Much of the dialogue about special education in charter schools now wants to paint charter schools with a homogeneous brush, (as if) all charter schools discriminate,” she said. “That’s not accurate. There’s a whole continuum.”

The center will work with policymakers and others who decide what programs the schools can offer.

“As a country, we have come a long way in our efforts to provide better educational opportunities for students with disabilities, but there is more work to be done,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement. “Because of the flexibility charter schools are given to innovate to serve their students, they are well positioned to give special needs children a world-class public education.”

As for policy, Rhim said she would like to see clear laws about how special ed is handled, and laws that address fair distribution of public education money.

Charter schools are public schools, but oftentimes they receive less funding than traditional public schools, making it more difficult to serve students with disabilities, Rhim said.

“The ideal would be that all charter schools welcome a diverse array of kids with disabilities and have the skills necessary to offer really high-quality programs to support kids with disabilities,” she said.

The goal is, “in a nutshell, moving the conversation from compliance to actually exceptional programs and outcomes for kids with disabilities.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at [email protected]

Part of 126 in the series Educating America
  1. Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
  2. Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
  3. Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
  4. DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
  5. Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
  6. Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
  7. Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
  8. Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
  9. ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
  10. NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
  11. Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
  12. Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
  13. Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
  14. Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
  15. SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
  16. DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
  17. U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
  18. ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
  19. New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
  20. Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
  21. $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
  22. Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
  23. Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
  24. Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
  25. Parents make good school choices, study says
  26. Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
  27. In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
  28. Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
  29. School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
  30. Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
  31. PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
  32. College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
  33. Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
  34. What is Massachusetts doing right?
  35. Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
  36. Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
  37. Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
  38. North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
  39. Philadelphia school district threatens charters
  40. Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
  41. Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
  42. Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
  43. Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
  44. California students sue state over ineffective teachers
  45. Study: Public supports parent choice in education
  46. Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
  47. New Orleans tops school choice index
  48. AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
  49. Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
  50. PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
  51. Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
  52. Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
  53. Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
  54. WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
  55. Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
  56. Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
  57. Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
  58. Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
  59. New York charter school focuses on family, community
  60. NC school vouchers on hold
  61. WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
  62. Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
  63. PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
  64. Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
  65. Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
  66. California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
  67. Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
  68. PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
  69. Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships
  70. To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split
  71. Philly school district broke, but the pay is good
  72. Philadelphia charter school sues public school district
  73. Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case
  74. Vermont to reconsider education funding formula
  75. Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand
  76. Massachusetts charter school bill revived
  77. Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say
  78. FL again takes up school-choice bill
  79. Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues
  80. Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action
  81. New website helps Detroit parents choose schools
  82. Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round
  83. Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs
  84. New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists
  85. Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools
  86. Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state
  87. ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts
  88. MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences
  89. Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year
  90. Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools
  91. Violent Philly high school source of worry
  92. Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district
  93. Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law
  94. Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up
  95. Academics, culture help mom choose private school
  96. PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts
  97. Arizona expands school choice program
  98. The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA
  99. Louisiana offers new vocational technical program
  100. Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools
  101. Educators look to grow with expanding Hispanic demographic
  102. Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools
  103. Philly school district facing another bleak budget
  104. Andre Agassi dedicates Indianapolis charter school
  105. For PA and neighboring states, school spending and graduation rates don’t add up
  106. At long last, PA school buses could be getting a boost
  107. Arizona charter schools need funding fix, proponents say
  108. Progress reports for Philadelphia schools show uneven achievement
  109. Teachers union opposes ‘Bad Teachers’
  110. Governor’s plans to boost education funding falls short
  111. Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge
  112. Missouri parents want more choice in education
  113. U.S. lawmakers to consider charter school bill
  114. Florida’s school choice expansion awaits governor’s signature
  115. PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula
  116. In Nevada, your child’s school records could cost $10K
  117. AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules
  118. NC school voucher program gets temporary green light
  119. Philly school district’s lack of transparency frustrates families
  120. Bullying motivates many parents to home-school, attorney says
  121. Philadelphia City Council gambles to fund schools
  122. PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly
  123. Feds consider joining school choice game
  124. Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others
  125. California teacher reform lawsuit sparks copycat, more likely to come
  126. School choice is popular — when parents know about it
  127. What can private schools learn from charters?


Mary was formerly a national education reporter for Watchdog.org.